Andy White at the Errigle
Melbourne may be Andy White’s adopted home but Belfast is in his blood. The globe-trotting troubadour is back on home ground for one night only – where the perfect fit is the Real Music Club’s regular Thursday venue, upstairs at the Errigle Inn.
It really is something of a homecoming gig. On stage, White recalls playing bass a lifetime ago in the exact same spot where he stands, duking behind the very same pillar as an underage rookie musician. In fact, his granny was a piano teacher just up the road, as revealed in an insightful interview with Ralph McClean on Radio Ulster.
If the beat of Belfast is in the arteries then the rhythm is in the veins. Words and music are the DNA so it’s only natural that the third generation should spin the narrative.
The story spans twelve volumes now. This tour is to promote the Andy White box set 1986-2016, surely chalking him up as one of Northern Ireland’s most prolific and poetic exports. From ‘Rave On’ (1986) to ‘Imaginary Lovers’ (2016), like bookends for ten more volumes through the years.
It’s Christmas time, and upstairs at the Errigle is quaintly attired for the season. I catch the whiff of nostalgia from an audience, mainly of a certain age and life stage. White kicks off with ‘Nonchalant’ from ‘Imaginary Lovers’, a retrospective recollection of teenage angst perhaps. Yet the maturity and craftsmanship comes across with the natural ease of a creative burst – ‘Half Time For You And I’ and ‘Anywhere With You Babe’, demonstrate that this is the winter of White’s new found content.
He seems utterly relaxed in his own skin, as they say about these parts. The ebb and flow of angst dissipates – but it gave us great songs over the years, and still delivers material rich in narrative, imagery, humour, humanity, and love.
The Errigle is well and truly warmed up now – White welcomes the legendary Rod McVeigh onstage.
McVeigh was the co-producer of White’s first five albums, so they go back a long way, and it shows. The next five minutes or thereabouts are the highlight of the night. ‘James Joyce’s Grave’ – White’s masterpiece. It sucks you in, spits you out, transports you from a Martello Tower on Dublin Bay to a Swiss Hill far away. It is a truth well told that Ireland has never been kind to her literary greats, a cruel mother who routinely disowned her most gifted offspring for the sin of non-conformity.
The richness of White’s lyrics, riddled with literary references, artfully woven, reveal just why he has a discerning and dedicated following. Spun no doubt from reading English Literature at Cambridge, the words and music of Andy White bear witness to the human condition, in all its glorious and miserable form.
In true troubadour style, he casts a cold eye on political inadequacy via melodic commentary.
White returns to where it all began – ‘Religious Persuasion’, his first release in 1985 which articulated so eloquently what so many of us thought. I remember buying the 12-inch version in Good Vibrations.
The ‘Rave On Andy White’ sequence goes down well with the crowd; ‘Tuesday Apocalypse’ and ‘Reality Row’. Some sing along, badly it must be said. I wish they wouldn’t. I wish the ‘talkers’ would go downstairs – that’s what the bar’s for.
It’s a gig of two halves. ‘In A Groovy Kind Of Way’ (1990) kicks off the second half, as we skim across the years. The challenge is to represent the full Andy White spectrum – so many songs, so little time – and how to choose?
Alternating between his twelve and six string guitars, the repertoire flicks from romantic retrospective to the political and eclectic. From ‘A Million Miles Away’ to Berlin’s parliament buildings, from North West Spain (for ‘The Colour Of Love’, dedicated to Mudd Wallace), to ‘The Government Of Love’, White whisks us on a tour of this big blue ball over the past thirty odd years, all under the roof of the Errigle Inn.
‘The Whole Thing’ is inspiring. Cleverly crafted introspective vignettes, personal and poetic, steeped in a sense of place, wherever that may happen to be, viewed through the artist’s eye then re-worked into form – ‘Street Scenes From My Heart’ being a case in point. “Leaning on a bus stop listening to the Lavery’s din” is a reference only us Belfastians would fully appreciate.
It is the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. An encore is called for. ‘We Come Down To The Sea’, then finish with ‘Visions Of You’. We spanned three decades in a couple of hours. With wit, warmth, and geniality, he covered politics and religion, love and loss, joy and misery.
If thirty years a generation makes, then the Andy White wheel has turned full circle. The 12 album box set is available at www.andywhite.com. Here endeth the UK tour – however there is a chance to hear Andy on this island before the end of the year – Whelans, Dublin on 29th December.